Promoting Gender Equality in Sports: Reviving the “LADIES FIRST” Athletic Competition in Tanzania after Three Years


JICA hosted the fourth “LADIES FIRST” athletic competition for female athletes this January at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. There were 210 Tanzanian female athletes competing in a total of nine events, including track events. About 1,000 primary and secondary school students, who came to watch the games, cheered the athletes on as they participated in heated competitions.

April 6 is the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, established by the United Nations. Let’s take this opportunity to look back on the competition.

“LADIES FIRST” is the first athletic competition for female athletes in Tanzania and was initiated in 2017 by JICA and the National Sports Council of Tanzania with the cooperation of Juma Ikangaa, who won Olympic diplomas when he represented Tanzania in the men’s marathon at the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics. In Tanzania, there is a strong preconception that sports are only for men, meaning that women have limited opportunities to engage in them. The meet was held with the aim of changing the environment and consciousness around women's sports and realizing gender equality in the country.

Following a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition was successfully revived this year. The number of participating athletes had doubled since the first competition, with many returning athletes who had competed before the pandemic, as well as those who had given birth and returned to the competition. The event was a resounding success and reinforced the importance of encouraging women to participate in sports and promoting gender equality.

The competition consisted of a total of nine events, including track and field events such as the 100m, 800m, 5000m, and 4 × 100m relay races, as well as javelin throwing, with female athletes selected from 30 states across the country participating.

Various events on the theme of gender equality and women's empowerment were held alongside the competition. Prior to the meet, an empowerment workshop was conducted for the athletes, while booths were set up at the event to offer health check-ups and information on the proper usage of sanitary products, as well as to raise awareness about the prevention of violence against women and children. In addition, educational brochures were distributed among the children in the audience, highlighting ways to prevent sexual assault and early pregnancy. Audience members also participated in jogging and aerobics activities to promote fitness and well-being.

Children in the audience also participated in aerobics in the side event. (Right) Many of the coaches and referees participating in the competition were women.

Winfrida Philipo Makenji, who won the 100m and 200m races, said, “I have shown that even someone from a village like me can do it. I want to convey to the women who did not participate in the tournament that they should not give up on playing sports.” Others welcomed the increase in the level of competition, saying, “with more participating athletes and more rivals, it was a more rewarding experience.”

Aiming for a society in which it is commonplace for women to engage in sports and play an active and vibrant role, LADIES FIRST will be held again next year and hopefully for many years to come.

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